Inventory Site Record

Red Lion Square Gardens (Camden)

Brief Description

Red Lion Square was laid out from the late C17th as a speculative venture and derives its name from the Red Lion Inn in Holborn. Among stories surrounding Oliver Cromwell's bodily remains (d.1658) is that in 1661 his exhumed corpse and that of Ireton and Bradshaw were brought to Red Lion Inn and buried nearby, with dummies substituted and taken to Tyburn. In 1737 an Act of Parliament was passed for 'beautifying' the square and in 1894 the freehold passed to the MPGA who then passed it free of cost to the LCC for use as a pleasure ground. The garden contains various commemorative statues, including to Bertrand Russell and Fenner Brockway, and at one time had a sculpture of Pocahontas. A handkerchief tree was planted here for the victims of the Lockerbie air disaster.

Practical Information
Site location:
Southampton Row
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Garden Square;, Public Gardens
Open to public?
Opening times:
locked at dusk
Special conditions:
Café 7am-dusk daily, all year round
Public transport:
Tube: Holborn (Piccadilly, Central). Bus: 25, 68, 91, 168, 188.
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.camden.gov.uk

Full Site Description

Red Lion Square was laid out from the late C17th as a speculative venture by Dr Nicholas Barbon and derives its name from the Red Lion Inn in Holborn. Barbon, an entrepreneur from Holland, was responsible for building a significant number of properties, including near the Strand, Essex Street and Devereux Street east of the Temple, over the gardens of Buckingham House and Mincing Lane and Devonshire Square in the City. Among the many stories surrounding the bodily remains of Oliver Cromwell (d.1658) is that in January 1661 his exhumed corpse and those of Henry Ireton and John Bradshaw were brought to Red Lion Inn the night before they were dragged on a hurdle to Tyburn for posthumous execution and beheading, and that they were buried here 'in a small paddock near Holborn, in that very spot over which the obelisk is placed in Red Lion Square' (according to John Prestwich, 1787) and dummies substituted for the Tyburn ordeal.

In 1737 an Act of Parliament was passed for the 'beautifying' of the square. The Horwood map shows the square without landscape features; Beresford Chancellor has an C18th print showing the square planted with rows of small trees, regularly spaced; and the OS map of 1914 shows a fountain and drinking fountain, and a central path bisecting its short axis, as at present. It was laid out as a public garden in 1885 by Fanny Wilkinson, landscape gardener to the MPGA and in 1894 the freehold was passed to the MPGA by the Trustees of the Square. The MPGA then passed it free of cost to the LCC, who maintained it as a pleasure ground. It is a rectangle enclosed by modern railings with mature London planes, designed around two circular grass plots with paths around their perimeters and a central paved area, and laid out with flower beds and shrubs, with a small wooden pavilion, now the café, with pitched, tiled roof sited close to one entrance.

In the garden is a bust of Bertrand Russell and a statue of Fenner Brockway erected by the GLC in 1985. At one time a bronze statue of Pocahontas by David McFall (1956) was installed in the square, but was removed some time after 1981. This sculpture was the logo of the publisher Cassell, originally based off Ludgate Hill where Pocahontas had lodged when she was in London in 1616. A handkerchief tree was planted for the victims of the Lockerbie air disaster.

Red Lion Square is now overlooked by C19th and C20th buildings, but retaining most of a C17th terrace on the south side: Nos. 14-17, four terraced houses c.1686 by Nicholas Barbon, altered later and re-fronted in the early Cl9th. No.17 Red Lion Square was the residence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and subsequently William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones (GLC tablet). It was the problem of providing furniture for these rooms that first led Morris to try his hand at furniture design; this was a spur to his decision to abandon architecture and concentrate on the applied arts. An office block of 1925, Summit House, was designed for Austin Reed by Westwood and Emberton. Another famous resident was John Harrison, who built the first accurate nautical instruments to plot longitude; he is buried in St John-at-Hampstead Churchyard (q.v.).

Sources consulted:

Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 4: North (Penguin, 1998); E Beresford Chancellor 'The History of the Squares of London: Topographical and Historical', London 1907; Survey of London; 'The London County Council and what it does for London: London Parks and Open Spaces' (Hodder & Stoughton, 1924); Ian Leith, 'Fashion and Familiarity: Post-War Garden and Park Sculpture in London' in The London Gardener, vol.13 for 2007-08; Elizabeth Crawford, 'Enterprising Women: The Garretts and their Circle' (Francis Boutle Publishers, 2nd ed. 2009). See www.olivercromwell.org

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ306817 (530610,181706)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
LB Camden
Site management:
Parks & Open Spaces; Red Lion Square Trust
1698 -1700; 1885
Nicholas Barbon. 1885: MPGA (Fanny Wilkinson)
Listed structures:
LBII: Nos 14-17 Red Lion Square; Summit House.
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Conservation Area name:
Tree Preservation Order:
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Yes - Area of Special Character: Central London Area
Other LA designation:
Public Open Space (Small Local). London Squares Preservation Act of 1931. Rail Safeguarding Area.

Red Lion Square Gardens

Red Lion Square Gardens, July 2009. Photo: S Williams

Red Lion Square Gardens, Statue of Fenner Brockway, July 2009. Photo: S Williams

Click a photo to enlarge.

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